Women Still Underrepresented in Virginia Politics

By Paige Baxter and Alix Hines

Capital News Service

[Editor’s note: This is a special report about women in politics. It also includes an interactive timeline; charts documenting the underrepresentation of women in the Virginia General Assembly and every state; avideo of three politically involved women discussing the issue; and a sidebar about plans to build a monument honoring Virginia women on the state Capitol grounds.]

Historical marker in Richmond. (Photo by Paige Baxter, CNS)

Historical marker in Richmond. (Photo by Paige Baxter, CNS)

By Paige Baxter and Alix Hines

Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt and Lucy Stone were among the national leaders of the suffragist movement in the United States. But several Virginians also paved the way for women in politics today.

Ellen Glasgow, Adèle Clark and Lila Meade Valentine were among the women who joined to create Virginia’s Equal Suffrage League. Later, that organization became the League of Women Voters of Virginia, which is dedicated to educating all citizens about civic issues. Continue reading

Advertisements

Abortion rallies draw many to the Capital


 
 

Capital News Service

By Alix Hines and Katherine Johnson

Photos Via Stephen Nielsen

RICHMOND – About 30 abortion rights activists from the Cooch Watch protest group lined the streets outside of the 47th annual Commonwealth Prayer Breakfast at the Greater Richmond Convention Center on Wednesday morning. Protesters came armed with a boom box and a catchy parody of Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”
Continue reading

Changes to Come in Richmond’s Projects

Plans to redevelop public housing in Richmond could force residents to relocate while the city rebuilds the housing. The redevelopment could lead to healthier communities that have both housing and businesses. The process is meant to transform public housing communities into areas where people of all incomes would like to live.

Mayor Dwight C. Jones and his administration plan to address the issue of public housing in Richmond’s East End by working to deconcentrate poverty in that area. The two projects that the city plans to redevelop first are Creighton Court in Richmond’s East End and Whitcomb Court located in the Eastview area, bordering Jackson Ward.

With the large number of children in these housing projects, the city assures residents the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority will take the well being of the students into account when the relocation process takes place.

Chub Eberhardt, a Creighton Court resident, said he didn’t like the idea because it would mean separating members of the community.

“We are going to protest if they come over here trying to get this. People over here need this. We is a family group, we take care of each other,” Eberhardt said.

Maxine Cholmondeley, the interim CEO of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, explained that city officials cannot talk about neighborhood revitalization without working to revitalize public housing.

The goal according to Peter Chapman, the deputy chief administrative officer for economic development and planning, is to create neighborhoods that resemble the mixed-income communities that existed generations ago. Chapman explained that these mixed-income communities provide children with the opportunity to have role models from all walks of life within their immediate neighborhood.

“What urban policy experts came to the realization of, about 20 or so years ago, maybe a little bit longer, is that you cannot create healthy, economically and socially viable and vibrant communities if you concentrate and in effect, warehouse low-income people,” Chapman said.

Cholmondeley explained that the housing authority would be undertaking mixed-income housing, which would mean having people of different income levels living in the same neighborhood. Along with this idea of mixed-income housing, she said there is also the idea of mixed-use neighborhoods. Mixed-use neighborhoods would bring services to the community.

“In order to have a neighborhood that is desirable and a neighborhood where anybody would want to live, we want to have mixed-use. That again would be not only housing but it would be doctor services, libraries, schools, banks, coffee shops, office space and commercial space all in the same area so that persons who live there have access to jobs and services,” Cholmondeley said.

Chapman explained that right now Creighton Court and Whitcomb Court are located in what is known as a food desert. A food desert, he said, is described as an area where people have to travel long distances to buy basic consumer goods. By redeveloping the area and creating mixed-use neighborhoods, Chapman said the city would like to attract a supermarket and other businesses to that area.

When you look at taking on economic revitalization of hugely underinvested areas, you have to start somewhere and typically you start with a component that will help to spark redevelopment, catalyze redevelopment, send a message to local stake holders and non-local stake holders that this community is moving in the right direction,” Chapman said.

Chapman explained that the revitalization plan focuses on Creighton Court and Whitcomb Court rather than other housing projects in the city in hopes that redeveloping these communities will help gain support for eventually redeveloping all of the housing projects.

Creighton Court, he said, was chosen strategically because of its close proximity to Armstrong High School, which is another asset to the city. Chapman said Armstrong High School consists of an area between 22 and 24 acres that the city would like to redevelop as a residential area with some retail.

Whitcomb Court, on the other hand, was chosen because a private developer- who Chapman could not name at this point- was interested in doing work on a site close to the housing project. Chapman said the city considered Whitcomb Court because it could create some synergy between the redevelopment projects. 

Cholmondeley said that she and a group including the mayor, the chief administrative officer for the city, the deputy chief administrator for economic and community development, the superintendent of schools, two of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority commissioners, and the president of the chamber of commerce took a trip to Atlanta to tour the property and hear how the Atlanta Housing Authority utilized the process. She said it made sense to visit Atlanta because it was close by and the city had been working on revitalization there since the ‘90s.

Cholmondeley also explained the concept of mixed-income housing and mixed-use neighborhoods is not unique to Atlanta. She said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been encouraging housing authorities to begin redevelopment for several years. Now that the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority has looked at the way Atlanta implemented the two concepts, Cholmondeley said the Richmond can adapt the idea to the situation here.

Chapman and Cholmondeley emphasized that this will be a long process, which will take place over the course of several years. Cholmondeley said the city will need different parts of the community’s support, including schools and businesses in the area.

Chapman said the city began the cherette process, which is a process that includes structured meetings with people who live in the communities affected by this redevelopment. The cherette process began in 2010 and brought residents together with the public and private sector to cast a vision for what they want the East End to look like. Chapman added that this does not mean all of the residents in Creighton Court and Whitcomb Court are aware of the proposed changes.

Although the redevelopment process would force families living in Creighton Court and Whitcomb Court to leave their homes, Cholmondeley explained that the housing authority has to secure housing for the residents. The housing authority would do this by either relocating them to another public housing unit or by providing a housing voucher that would pay for a portion of their rent.

Further, Cholmondeley said the housing authority will also be taking the schools into consideration because there are so many children that live in these housing projects. She said relocating families could mean the children have to attend a different school.

“A school is a school. You go to school for one thing and that’s to learn. You can make friends everywhere. I ain’t got no problem making friends. Most the time it is difficult going to different schools because then you go to school with enemies and people that are trying to make bad things happen for you,” Ilt Jackson, a student at Armstrong High School, said.

Chapman said there will be plenty of community meetings that will be posted through the community associations to further the community engagement and outreach during this process.

Jodeci Coleman, a student at Richmond Community High School, has been a resident of Creighton Court for about 15 years. He said the change could be positive for the community because it could change the dynamics of the neighborhood.

“We’re really very excited that the mayor has this as a focus- deconcentrating poverty- because we think it can only benefit our residents. We look forward to working with the city and moving this forward,” Cholmondeley said.

The Richmond Housing and Redevelopment Authority is expected to issue a request for qualifications to attract a master planner for the redevelopment of Creighton Court and Whitcomb Court sometime this week. Chapman added that within the next year, the housing authority and the office of economic and community development will be working closely with the chosen developer to create a revitalization plan that will also include a relocation plan for the residents of the two housing projects.

Women descend upon Capitol to protest ultrasound bill

Deb Lassiter, a Norfolk native, traveled to the Capitol of Virginia for the fourth time since Feb. 20 on Saturday to show her discontent with the current political temperature of the Virginia General Assembly.           

Photo by Alix Hines

Photo by Alix Hines

Women and men presented a united front against the ultrasound bill, which would force a state -mandated ultrasound be performed 24 hours before an abortion procedure could occur. Originally, the ultrasound bill would have required women to have a transvaginal ultrasound before having the procedure completed but the bill was amended to require only a transabdominal ultrasound. Protestors were outraged that Virginia’s legislature would mandate a medical procedure; one that many said violated women’s right to privacy and ultimately violated women’s rights.

Lassiter said the anti-abortion legislation in the  General Assembly is taking the fight for women’s rights back about 40 years to the bra burning era of the ‘60s. She said that it was sad that women are being forced to fight the same battle once again when there are so many other issues the government could be focusing on.

“Gov. McDonnell you’ve got to go, when you get pregnant let us know,” rang out in the crowd during Saturday’s protest. Sara Wallace-Keeshen, the northern Virginia organizer for Virginia New Majority, said that she came to the protest because she was disgruntled by the fact that Virginia’s majority-male legislature is trying to make life altering decisions for women.

 “I figure if you can’t keep Republicans out of your vagina, what chance do you have of affecting any positive change?” Lassiter said.

Ann Huebner and her 10-year-old daughter, Aili Waller, were among Saturday’s protesters as they stood at the top of a hill bearing a sign that read, “Gov. McDonnell Get Out Of My Vagina.” Huebner said she comes from a medical family, and even her father, a surgeon, supported her and her daughters’ presence at the protest because Virginia legislators are making decisions that medical professionals are trained to make.

“Women have very complicated medical situations. There are ectopic pregnancies, there are complications from fibroid tumors, cancer, all sorts of things that can happen when a woman gets pregnant and these fools are rushing in and acting like doctors,” Huebner said.

Kathy Greenier, director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights project at the ACLU of Virginia, explained that by mandating an ultrasound the government is limiting access to healthcare for lower income women.

“On top of that, mandating an ultrasound can possibly raise the cost of the procedure, a cost that is passed to the patient which may make the procedure prohibitively expensive,” Greenier said.

Gabi Schatz, a student at Virginia Commonwealth University and one of the organizers for the original “Speak Loudly with Silence Protest” on Feb. 20, said that the ultrasound bill and the personhood bill, which was killed for the year, would not eliminate abortions entirely, even if it were passed in the future.

“Rich women are still going to be able to get safe abortions and poor women are going to go in back alleys. It’s [the legislation] not eliminating abortion, it’s eliminating safe procedures,” Schatz said.

 

 

Scott Price, director of public policy at Alliance for Progressive Values, suggested a scenario in which a woman, living in the southwestern part of Virginia, where there aren’t any abortion clinics, would have to take off work to travel to an abortion clinic. He continued explaining that she would probably have to stay overnight, get an ultrasound, and wait 24 hours to get the abortion. The time away from work, on top of the possibility of the price of an ultrasound rising in response to the ultrasound bill, would create yet another barrier for poor women to get this procedure Price, pointed out. 

Price described the ultrasound bill as, “a piece of Swiss cheese.” He said Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) put it well when she was quoted in a Huffington Post article saying that the Virginia legislature amended the ultrasound bill, removing the state mandated rape.

Price explained that, although he recognizes that Howell’s statement was hyperbolic, it wasn’t completely inaccurate. He said that rape is defined as forced penetration, and the original ultrasound bill would force women to have a transvaginal ultrasound done before having an abortion.        

Greenier said that based on the number of bills that restrict a woman’s access to choice introduced during this session of Virginia’s General Assembly, the fight for women’s rights has moved backward to some extent. On the other hand, she added that the fact that people are standing up for their rights, protesting and even gaining national media attention, speaks to the certainty that women and men are taking action in the fight for women’s rights.

Schatz said the protests might not have come together quite as well without social networking. She said it truly brought people from every age, every race, and both genders out to fight for women’s rights.

 

Capital Budget proposed at Richmond Planning Commission Meeting

Plans to craft Richmond into a tier one city dominated the proposed capital budget presented yesterday by Byron C. Marshall, the chief administrative officer for the city, at the Richmond City Planning Commission meeting.

Marshall said the city’s budget focuses on seven specific areas ranging from creating more inclusive communities and neighborhoods to working toward a more sustainable Richmond. All of the focus areas are designed to make Richmond a tier one city or a major metropolitan area within the country.

The capital budget, Marshall explained, proposes that the city invest in the riverfront. He said by making the riverfront more accessible, Richmond will attract more families to places like Belle Isle and Brown’s Island. Additionally, the city has plans to improve the Canal Walk for the same purpose of attracting tourists and bringing Richmond residents to the James River area.

Many of the highlights in the capital budget focus on bringing more private investors to Richmond to increase the value of areas that need attention. City officials are expecting investors to get good revenue in return to help fund some of the city’s other projects.

The Richmond Planning Commission also passed a motion to accept $85,000 from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to make Capitol Square greener by improving the storm infrastructure.

Rodney Poole, a member of the Richmond City Planning Commission, questioned why city officials are choosing to put less attention on the Boulevard Redevelopment Program and instead, focusing on the Shockoe Revitalization Plan.  The Boulevard Redevelopment Program would focus on redeveloping real estate along North Boulevard and could lead to a new baseball diamond for the Richmond Squirrels. Marshall explained that the Boulevard Redevelopment program would cost the city an estimated $50 million, whereas the Shockoe Revitalization Plan would cost an estimated $5 million.

Marshall said city officials hope that the development of areas such as Shockoe Bottom and projects that could include revitalizing the Landmark Theater would spur development from 17th Street to Broad Street.

 “We [city officials] would like to invest more money, but we’re constrained in some ways because we have to have enough tax base to pay the debt, and we’re not to the point where we can pay for it with cash. So that’s why we’re trying to focus on specific areas like Shockoe Bottom, the riverfront [and] the area around the Landmark theater, because we believe there are private investors who will put money into those areas,” Marshall said.

Marshall explained that with attractions like the Broadway musical, The Lion King, coming to the Landmark, selling over 80,000 tickets and bringing business for area restaurants, the city projects that by improving this venue, more shows like The Lion King will come to Richmond. The city’s proposed capital budget allots money for improving the theater’s sound system, making some structural improvements, and making the box office more user friendly by ensuring customers don’t have to stand in the rain to buy tickets.

Beyond encouraging investment in the city, the proposed budget also allocates money to developing two of Richmond’s projects, Whitcomb Court and Creighton Court.  Marshall said the city is looking to implement mixed-use development in these areas in hopes that these communities will be a place where no one can tell how much someone paid for their home. Marshall added that these new communities would be centered on schools and creating better overall environments.

Amy Howard, a member of the Richmond City Planning Commission, questioned why Whitcomb Court and Creighton Court were the two housing projects chosen for revitalization rather than some of the other possibilities.

 Marshall said Richmond city officials have talked to officials in Atlanta about their transitional process that took about 20 years to complete and, based on the responses from Atlanta officials and the dynamics of the individual projects, Whitcomb Court and Mosby Court were chosen.

 “It’s [implementing mixed-use development] easier if you can build something that people can see that they’re going to move to,” Marshall said.

The city, Marshall explained, would tear down facilities in those areas and build new housing. This, he said, would provide proof that the city will rebuild those areas and help people transition back into those communities.

Although city officials aren’t planning to implement mixed-used development in Mosby Court, they are planning to expand the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle school gym in hopes that it will serve as a community center.

The Tipping Point: Tensions Between Three Powers

Dr. Eugene Trani provided honors students at Virginia Commonwealth University with valuable insight into impending American foreign relations policies involving the Russian and Chinese governments. “The Eagle, the Bear, and the Dragon: Relations between the United States, Russia, and the People’s Republic of China in the 20th Century,” was the title of the seminar presented by Dr. Trani, president emeritus and distinguished professor at VCU. On Friday afternoon, Trani addressed students as part of the Berglund Seminar Series offered to members of the Honors College.

Dr. Trani discussed former and imminent foreign policy issues regarding Russia and China, based on a book recently published by Trani and his colleague, Donald E. Davis, entitled “Distorted Mirrors: Americans and Their Relations with Russia and China in the Twentieth Century.” Trani pointed out that the book was being published in all three nations in the official language of each, and the illustration on the cover of the book was done by an artist representing each of the countries highlighted. Not surprisingly, each illustrator depicted the idea of “distorted mirrors” differently. The prospective publishing date in China has been put on hold because all books on foreign policy must be reviewed by the Government Publications Review Agency before being released. Parts of the book may be deleted from any edition sold in the People’s Republic of China by the government if they are found objectionable. Trani and Davis have yet to reveal their plan of action if this occurs.

In 1981, during a four-month visit to Moscow at the height of the Cold War, Trani gathered information about Russian views of American foreign policy while teaching at Moscow University. He admitted, “One of the causes of the book was, night after night after night visiting homes of Russians where inevitably there was too much vodka served, and you would sit around the table and they would lament largely Russian relations, the state of the American relations, and what happened to these two great allies that defeated Hitler in World War II.”

Photo by Alix Hines

Photo by Alix Hines

Trani also outlined an upcoming honors module he will teach during spring semester of 2011.  He described the course as rigorous, but said that students will delve into American, Russian and Chinese relations in the 21st century.  Part of the coursework will include having students interview their families to assess their impressions of Russia and China as part of writing assignments on Russia and China.

Following the seminar, Katie Mutilin, a Ukrainian-American honors student, commented, “My mom said that the propaganda that was spread at the time (of the Cold War) was that America was a cruel capitalist society that didn’t care about their people. But my family didn’t actually believe that. We came here because we believed this would be a better place to have a future.” Mutilin explained that the way Trani described his stay in Russia mirrored her experiences in the country.

Honors student Danielle Blankenship said of the experience, “Well, I was interested in going (to the seminar) originally because the president we had for 19 years at VCU was speaking, and I had heard that he was a very interesting individual. I thought it was interesting to hear him talk to a small group of college students about his experiences and what he is doing.”

Blankenship also pointed out that a political cartoon Trani shared with the audience depicts how the United States is currently inadvertently pushing Russia and the People’s Republic of China to become allies.

“Clearly, American and Chinese relations are going to be the relations of your generation and probably your children’s generation, and American- Russian relations were the major part of your parents’ generation. If we inadvertently drive Russia and China together, that will become the major event of the 21st century in terms of the undoing of America’s dominant role in foreign policy,” concluded Trani.